middle east

Swede behind Syria arms smuggling

3:48 min

A former imam at one of Sweden's major mosques has been smuggling large amounts of weapons to Syria for the past 18 months, according to a new report by Swedish Radio News.

The Swede is, according to Swedish Radio sources, one of the most important people when it comes to supplying the rebels with arms.

Ever since the beginning of the civil war in Syria over two years ago, one of the biggest issues for the rebels has been access to weapons. To be able to defend themselves against Bashar al Assad’s well equipped army, they need arms.

Swedish Radio News has revealed today that the Swede, who himself has roots in Syria, is one of the most important people in the weapons supply chain for the rebels.

For several years he was an imam in one of Sweden's main mosques. But for the past 18 months he has been helping the Syrian opposition and smuggling weapons into the country, according to Swedish Radio News' sources both in Sweden and abroad.

Raphaël Lefèvre from the University of Cambridge interviewed the Swede about the arms trade.

"He was very open about his deals in terms of trying to bring weapons within Syria and especially in the area around Homs," he told Swedish Radio.

Raphaël Lefèvre has also written about the Swede and his organisation's arms transports in a Carnegie report.

Léfèvre told Swedish Radio's reporters that the Swede had told him himself that he had sent weapons to Syria, via his organisation, so that people could protect themselves against the attacks by the Syrian regime.

The organisation has itself put hundreds of clips featuring rebel fighters up on its YouTube channel.

The Swede is in charge of business. He makes sure that the weapons are bought and collected in Libya for the most part, but also in European countries like Bosnia and Romania. They are then transported by boat or plane to Turkey, and then trucked over the border to Syria where they are passed on to the rebels.

According to Thomas Tjäder, political advisor at the ISP, the Swedish Agency for Non-Proliferation and Export Controls, smuggling the weapons to Syria is a crime in Sweden, and could mean a prison sentence of four years.

In this case the man is a Swedish citizen, but anyone living in Sweden has to follow the Swedish rules. The fact that the weapons have never crossed the Swedish border is neither here nor there, Thomas Tjäder says.

"Anyone living in Sweden or anyone that spends a lot of time here is forbidden from transporting weapons without first getting permission from us, so it's illegal", he says.

Swedish Radio News' reporters have tried to contact the the former imam many times, and in all kinds of ways, but have not yet managed to get hold of him. But they did manage to meet with the leader of his organisation. His name is Nazir Hakim. He confirms that the Swede travels the world raising money for the organisation, and that the money goes towards buying weapons. But he claims the weapons are bought from the people in the regime in Syria, not from the Balkans, Iraq or Libya.

He adds that the organisation has had shipments from Libya, but they were shipments of milk, not weapons. That's because it is illegal to ship weapons, he says.

But Swedish Radio News' sources, both here in Sweden and abroad, and also at the heart of the organisation itself, claim that it is indeed weapons they are shipping.

University researcher Raphaël Lefèvre says many people know about the arms smuggling.

"It is not a secret that his... that this group is sending weapons to Syria!" he says.

Reporters: Kajsa Norell & Carolina Jemsby